Hello from Siberia!!
So, you're probably all wondering why I didn't write home on Monday and let you know where I am after transfers and what's new and why the heck I just said "hello from Siberia". Well... I'll start off by saying that it has definitely been the most interesting transfer so far of my mission. A week ago from Tuesday, I got up super early and along with Elder Waltman, Elder Phillips, and Elder Steed flew to Vlad in order to find out where I was going and with whom I would be serving. It was a fun adventure getting to Vlad. (Amongst all the hustle and bustle, I lost my black rabbit shopka. I know. I was not too happy. It got left in the trunk of a taxi in Khabarovsk. Oh well, it was getting a little beat up and maybe it'll keep someone else's head warm next winter. No need in complaining.) So, the six elders that didn't know transfers yet gathered in the conference room on the fourth floor at the church building and we met with President and Sister Pratt. They then announced to us where we would be going and that we would be flying out the next day. I am now serving in a city called Irkutsk which is west of Lake Baikal, the largest fresh water lake in the world. It is about a 4 1/2-5 hour flight from Vlad which is comparable to the distance I guess between Orlando and Salt Lake. Crazy huh?!? The city of Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude are two cities that are part of the Novosibirsk mission and which will become a part of the Vladivostok mission July 1 officially. But in order to make this transition smoother, they sent us a transfer sooner. So presently, I'm serving in the Novosibirsk mission and yet I am under President Pratt's leadership still. It's really really interesting. So, now I can say that I have served in Siberia. Irkutsk is a beautiful city, comparable to the size of Vlad in terms of population and yet the city isn't quite set up the same as Vlad. It's also about twice as old as Vlad so there are tons of beautiful old Russian buildings scattered throughout the city. It's certainly a different city to that of all the cities I have previously served in, and yet I'm definitely still in Russia.
I don't even know what else I should share with you all because I have tons of thoughts and I can't seem to gather them all together. I will say that the branch here is awesome! Right now, Elder Stewart and Elder Zamora are serving in Irkutsk along with me and Elder Miller (my comp). There are two Elders from Novo (Novosibirsk) which are the zone leaders here (the Novo mission is set up currently how our mission used to be set up with zone leaders in each city instead of having each city be a district with zone leaders over several districts/cities.) Their names are Elders Smith and Bircher and they're both super awesome! They went on their visa trip to Finland this past week so we were here in Irkutsk to fend for ourselves but it hasn't been hard getting around and the members have been helpful.
President Lawrence of the area presidency came this past weekend along with President Pratt and President Trejo (Novo) to announce the change. It was approved by the First Presidency about 6 months ago and mostly, as far as I understand, they're doing it to lessen the distance that the Novo missionaries and especially the mission president have to travel between cities. The Novo mission only does transfers by train since planes in Siberia that fly between Siberian cities are mostly little prop planes and it's too hard to fit everything you would need in luggage on those. It's already a 10 hour train ride between Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude and so if you're going from Ulan-Ude to Omsk, the farthest city to the west in the Novo Mission, you're on the train for 3 days. Basically, we had a special fireside on Saturday evening where Pres. Lawrence announced everything and then they all left that night on the train to Ulan-Ude to announce it there on Sunday. Both cities have strong branches (Ulan-Ude had 90+ people in attendance on Sunday and they will soon have their own building once it's finished; we had 50+ in attendance here). It's still been hard to talk to people as it always is and of course people don't all want to hear about our message, but contacting is a lot easier here in Irkutsk because the people seem to simply be more open. It's been a lot of fun this past week just getting immersed in the work, meeting new people, and just having fun!
I'm sure you all will probably have questions about things here, if there are any differences I've noticed or exciting things that have happened. So if you do have questions, I'll be sure to answer. :) It was interesting since we (the Vlad missionaries) weren't allowed to say anything about the change before Saturday evening and so it made it difficult when people would ask where we came from or where we had served. We told them Vlad and some thought we were joking. Others were just confused. But now, everything makes sense and all is well. :)
Sunday, all the new missionaries spoke in church and I spoke about prayer. I shared some remarks from Elder Bednar that I absolutely love. It went well and I really loved hearing from my fellow missionaries. As I listened to Elder Zamora, I realized again just how much the Lord has shaped us into instruments for his work. He spoke with power, guided by the spirit. We all sang a musical number and pretty much, all went well.
We have a really cool investigator right now that just seemed to find us all of a sudden through a member in Vlad actually. I'll let you know how that all unfolds this upcoming week.
Well, I'm sorry this email is probably a little crazy and maybe doesn't flow or make any sense at all but I will certainly write more next week and hopefully include some cool interesting details. By the way, this morning it snowed here. Welcome to Siberia! It had been pretty warm until yesterday and it all of a sudden cooled down a lot.
Oh and p-day in the Novo mission is on Wednesday, so I'll be writing home on Wednesdays for a little while, until things change officially and go back to how they were.
I love you all and I want you to know I know that this is the Lord's work. I'm safe and in His hands.
Thanks for the emails this past week! LOVE YOU!
P.S. We met 3 Germans yesterday on the street. It was way cool! Unfortunately, Russian has completely occupied the foreign language part of my brain and so I couldn't remember anything in German to save my life. Except for Guten tag! which I said as they walked away from us. We helped them find a supermarket since they wanted to buy food before they got back on the Trans Siberian railroad. They had come to visit Lake Baikal. When I first said hello and invited them to English club in Russian, they all looked at me and made gestures that they didn't speak Russian. One, named Laura, asked in English 'English?' since she heard the word английский (English) probably. Anyways, I started speaking English and asked if they spoke English. Another named Robin said that he spoke English, German, and Italian and I was blown away since I hadn't yet figured out they were from Germany. I thought, “Wow! This guy is a genius!” I love meeting new people.